Game development is a tricky business. It’s a challenging, competitive field requiring a combination of expert technical skills and artistic imagination. It requires innovation, an ability to take risks, but, also, sound judgement and planning to take a game from conception to realisation.
Now, although game development is hard, running a society isn’t easy either. We caught up with virtuosos Luke Shires (right) and Edwin Jones (left), the president and vice president of NTU Dev Soc, studying computer science (games technology) and multimedia games engineering respectively at Trent, to discuss their twofold recognition at the X48 GameCamp events.
Luke was team leader at the Birmingham event, where his team placed second for their game, NOM. And in an unexpected windfall, Edwin’s team also placed second with Gigas at the Huddersfield event a month later. They told us about where the ideas came from for their prize-winning games, how their teams gelled and what their relatives think about them pursuing careers in the games industry.
What was it like being awarded second place, for both your games, at the X48 GameCamp events in Birmingham and Huddersfield?
Luke Shires: When we won the first event, it was so unexpected that I found I had to look around and think, “Is this actually our game that’s won, because there are so many good games?” And then, when Ed’s team won it was the most bitter, crushing feeling ever to know that his team had done the same.
Edwin Jones: [laughs] Ha! He came second at Birmingham, I came second at Huddersfield, but nobody expected my team to rank.
LS: To be honest I was absolutely devastated that he’d equalled me.
EJ: Told you I was going to. If you think about it, the average actually works out better than any other university. No one else has come first twice or third twice.
LS: Yeah, we’ve come higher than Derby and they’re our main rival.
EJ: Well, to be fair, Derby fielded a younger team [at Huddersfield] – it was two first years and two second years. They sent their A Teams to Birmingham [won Most Innovative Game]. There game was perfectly reasonable, they’re very skilled, they have a very nice course and a nice campus. But we beat them, and we’re quite happy about that because it’s all about Nottingham Trent.
LS: And tonight we’ve been reminding them…
EJ: Yeah. They did make an effort to come all the way to Nottingham to come to this event [GameCityNights], so they do work hard. It’s nice when you beat someone who works that hard.
LS: We have quite a good relationship with them because they’re actually coming to see us on Monday for a Trent versus Derby game competition to continue this rivalry on. I guess they must like being beat.
Have you ever won anything like this before?
EJ: Dev Soc only started in October last year. So there’s not really been an opportunity to win anything else.
LS: In terms of Dev Soc, we’ve only been a society for about… not even a year-and-a-half university time. And before that, everyone was kind of making games, and you’d [make] them, leave them on your computer and then forget about them. The idea of Dev Soc is really that we make games and help each other. Then we can get them out to events like [GameCityNights]. Nights like tonight are really what the development society is about. So we can get to play with industry pros and basically make a name for ourselves.
How many people are in Dev Soc at the moment?
LS: I think it’s about 12-15 members at the moment.
Starting with Luke’s game, NOM. This is a game where you’re exploring a primordial soup-type world, and looks similar to thatgamecompany’s flOw. How did the concept originate for it?
LS: The theme was ‘discovery’. The first that came to mind was a space game… it’s big, it’s space, you can discover it. And then I thought it not really going anywhere, it need a bit of an edge. We came to the idea that how about some kind of virtual universe that you just appear in for whatever reason. We just left that entirely up to the player to make their own story to it. You discover it and meet other life in there.
The idea of the game was the way you play and interact with the game world and the creatures in it affects how the game ends for you. So at the same time you’re discovering the world, you also eventually realise you’re forging it and you have an impact on this place you arrive in.
And how about Gigas, Edwin. You control stars as you attempt to engulf other bodies and grow larger. How did you come up with the idea for that?
EJ: The theme of [our] competition was ‘giants’. We decided, as a team, that we didn’t want to do giants in the traditional sense, like Jack and the Beanstalk or just a giant human being. So we all came with the idea, “Oh, what about gas giants, what about the biggest things you can get, celestial bodies?” And it kind of just rolled from there.
Luke, you worked with three other students who took on various roles, Steven Batchelor-Manning, Jason Browne and Patrick Merritt. How was the working relationship between your team?
LS: Surprisingly good for these events. It can be incredible pressure. In a 27 hour stint, you’ve already been up since 5:00 in the morning to get there, so, when you reach 5:00am the next morning and you’ve got seven hours to get your game done, you can imagine that it would be quite easy to hate these people who are supposes to be building this game for you. But we basically had one disagreement for about half-an-hour and at the end of it we realised that were actually arguing the same point in different ways. So overall it was very good.
Edwin, you also had three students with you, Simon Batt, Tim Leader and Sammy Sakaria. How did your team get along?
EJ: I’ve only really started doing game design with my MSc – I come from an undergraduate in the arts, ancient [and] medieval history [at the University of Wales]. So I only started coding, modelling and just general game design learning [in autumn 2009].
I was lead designer and I also did modelling for some of our assets. I had two programmers, Simon Batts and Tim Leader. Sammy Sakaria was our main artist. He did the PhotoShop work and also did our sound work. Quite luckily, I had two good coders, one good sound and artist guy, and there was me for the modelling to make the suns and things in our game. It came together quite well. A lot of people expected that I wouldn’t have a lot to do, but, surprisingly, there is. But me leading the team, there was lots of things [to handle]. I was asking, “Do you want coffees? Do you want food? Let’s take some breaks. What are your ideas?”Just really getting them to work together.
I ended up doing a lot more work than I thought I would, and I stayed up all night, just like everybody else. Managing the team was my strength, but everybody did really well. Once we had eight hours to go, representatives of Microsoft and Rockstar came along and they were ridiculously impressed. When we got second – we were still surprised, because there was such great competition – but we were very happy.
What do your friends and family think about your current career choice?
LS: I’ll tell them about it soon. [laughs]
EJ: My family have always known I’ve been into games. They were very surprised I did an undergraduate arts degree. They’re all very proud of me. It’s very nice to have a family that, sort of, they don’t really understand what I’m doing, but they support [from the view that] I want to do it and I’m working hard, and that’s all they really care about.
Where do you want to be in five years?
LS: Five years? At the minute I’m kind of looking to stay at Trent and hopefully secure some kind of funding to do a PhD. I really want to work with game technologies, but, like I’m doing in my final year project, I want to apply game technologies to help things like the visually impaired. The project [I’m working on] now uses game technologies to simulate visual impairments to see how that could be used to train medical personnel. So I’d really like to work in that area for a bit and then, eventually, slide off into the industry and just make shooters.
EJ: Junior level designer for a big games company. Any one will do. As long as I’m on a dev team and I’m working on a big title – one that I enjoy and I like – I’ll be very happy where I am. Hopefully I’ll progress over time, but in five years, I think that’s a reasonable goal.